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Einatmen - Ausatmen/Breathing In -  Breathing Out, Portraitinstallation Norbert Klassen, 1992, 144 Terrakotten, je ca. 65 cm hoch, 144 Holzsockel, je 110 x 30 x 30 cm, 2 Monitore, 2 Player, 2 Videobänder, Sound, Installationsfoto Kasseler Kunstverein, 1992  

EinatmenAusatmen – Porträtinstallation Norbert Klassen

Herausgegeben von Peter Forster
für das Museum Wiebaden
Michael Imhof Verlag 2015
Hardcover, 190 Seiten, inkl. DVD
ISBN 978-3-7319-0231-7

  Einatmen - Ausatmen, Portrait installation, Norbert Klassen, 1992

The heart of the installation Einatmen – Ausatmen (Breathing In – Breathing Out) comprises 144 oversized masks of the face of Swiss actor and performer Norbert Klassen. Like the terra-cotta armies of Chinese emperors, the terra-cotta pieces are also arranged in long, parallel rows – six rows of 24 masks, each mask supported by a hand beneath the chin and mounted on a wooden pedestal.

All of 144 masks look identical at first glance. A closer look reveals, however, that each mask in one of the middle rows has a different facial expression, achieved by opening or closing one eye. Thus every mask in this row represent a fraction of a second or, more precisely, one-twenty-fourth of a second. Viewers walking along this gathering of statuary masks follow the process of the winking of an eye as an imaginary facial movement in space.

Individual characteristics become apparent not only on the front surfaces of these seemingly identical masks. The rear or inside surfaces exhibit differences as well. They are decorated with various ornamental signs and abstract drawings. It is on these rear surfaces that real individualisation is evident.

In two other elements of the installation, the masks appear as images on two monitors in an animated video sequence. One video clip shows the front sides, the other the backs. In the video featuring the front surfaces of the masks, the opening and closing of the eye and the subsequent five-second phase in which the eye remains motionless, staring ahead, are shown in film tempo at 24 images per second. The flowing movement of the animated film is underscored by the sound of deep, rhythmic breathing. The second video clip shows the individually designed rear sides as a sequence of stills. The images are accompanied by a tape played in reverse of Klassen whispering the text of Antonin Artaud's essay "Die Kunst und der Tod" (Art and Death).

The aesthetic appeal of this monumental work consisting of terra-cotta masks with a yellowish tint emerges from the magic of serial presentation. That appeal is disturbed by the surface structure, in which the process of ageing in the skin of the subject becomes apparent, thus questioning his status of perpetual "stardom".

Peter Forster